September 2, 2011

Winners and losers: Wilson wows in debut

In the two months since he announced he was transferring to Wisconsin, Russell Wilson arguably garnered more national publicity than he ever received while starring for three seasons at North Carolina State.

Wilson demonstrated Thursday why he merited so much attention.

In his first game with his new team, Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score as Wisconsin celebrated the opening night of the season with a 51-17 thrashing of UNLV. Wilson went 10-of-13 for 255 yards and also rushed for 62 yards on two carries, including a 46-yard burst.

"It was a great start for us," Wilson told reporters afterward. "We did a really good job. We played hard and executed the offense really well. There are obviously little things we can get better at each and every play, but that's just being critical. I think we did a good job offensively, defensively and on special teams."

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Wilson went right to work for his new team. His first pass in a Wisconsin uniform was a 23-yard completion to Jared Abbrederis that gave Wisconsin first-and-goal from the 9. Three plays later, he connected with Montee Ball for a 4-yard touchdown.

Wisconsin scored seven touchdowns and a field goal on its first eight possessions.

"I don't think I got touched at all today, which is pretty unbelievable," Wilson said. "The offensive line did a great job. They're tremendous up there. Got to keep getting better, but they're really special up front."

Wilson's play impressed his new coach.

"I have been in this profession for a while, and you can see guys that naturally got a little bit of something to them - some moxie, some savvy, some God-given ability that makes him love every single minute of the day," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema told reporters. "Russell is a guy that has been very impressive. You've heard me say it a million times, but I think people will see that. For instance, when NFL scouts come in, when visitors are at practice, they are just amazed at the way he works. And today you saw why."

Those were the same ingredients that helped make Wilson so successful at N.C. State. Wilson ranks third in ACC history in touchdown passes (76), eighth in total offense (9,628) and 12th in passing yards (8,545). He ranked 10th in the nation in total offense last season while leading North Carolina State to a 9-4 record.

The two-sport athlete was expected to stop playing football after last season to pursue a pro baseball career, but he had second thoughts after struggling with the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists, a Colorado Rockies' Class A affiliate. By that time, NCSU coach Tom O'Brien already had announced that Mike Glennon would be his starting quarterback. Wilson got a release from North Carolina State and headed to Wisconsin. Because he already had graduated, he was eligible to play for the Badgers immediately.

For most of his career, Wilson ranked among the nation's most underrated quarterbacks. Now he's the center of attention for a team with legitimate BCS aspirations.

"I'm excited," Wilson said. "The first start was good, but you have to move on and get ready for the next week. We have a great team [Oregon State] coming in next week, and we need to prepare offensively and execute."

[Photos: Thursday's action]

Wilson's Wisconsin debut highlighted an otherwise ho-hum opening night that featured plenty of mismatches and lackluster performances. Here's a recap of some winners and losers from Thursday's action.

WINNERS

Georgia Tech's passing attack: Yes, we're heralding the passing offense of this run-oriented team. Georgia Tech QBs Tevin Washington and Synjyn Days combined to throw for 365 yards - the most by the Yellow Jackets since 1987 - and three touchdowns in a 63-21 rout of FCS program Western Carolina. Not bad for a team that ranked 119th in passing last season. In fact, Tech had more passing yards in the first quarter (148) Thursday than it accumulated in any game last season. The Yellow Jackets also racked up 662 yards of total offense, the second-highest output in school history.

Mississippi State RB Vick Ballard: Although he's known more as a bruiser than a speedster, Ballard showed plenty of big-play ability in Mississippi State's 59-14 blowout of Memphis. Ballard rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including breakaways of 46 and 66 yards.

[BulldawgJunction: Ballard leads way for MSU]

Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib (in the fourth quarter and overtime): Syracuse beat Wake Forest 36-29 in overtime only after Nassib rallied the Orange from a 15-point deficit in the final 8:30 minutes of regulation. After throwing for only 85 yards and one touchdown in the first three quarters, Nassib was 8-of-8 for 93 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way.

[Off the field: Paralyzed LeGrand makes radio debut ]

Utah LB Brian Blechen: On the opening night of the 2010 season, Blechen capped his college debut by picking off a pass in overtime to spark Utah's 27-24 victory over Pittsburgh. One year later, Blechen collected two more interceptions and made a smooth transition from safety to linebacker in the Utes' 27-10 triumph over Montana State.

LOSERS

Discipline: The off-field issues that stained college football throughout the summer carried over to the opening day of the season. Ohio State announced Thursday that three more players - RB Jordan Hall and DBs Corey Brown and Travis Howard - were suspended for Saturday's game with Akron for receiving illegal benefits. Mississippi State opened the season Thursday without five players suspended for violations of team rules. Kentucky announced just before kickoff of its 14-3 victory over Western Kentucky that WR E.J. Fields was serving a one-game suspension. And two days before USC's season opener, Trojans secondary coach Willie Mack Garza resigned amid a CBSSports.com report that he was connected to Willie Lyles, a former scout and the current subject of an NCAA investigation.

Wake Forest and Syracuse kicking games: Syracuse's Ross Krautman and Wake Forest's Jimmy Newman both entered the season with long streaks of successful field-goal attempts, but neither was effective Thursday. Newman extended his streak to 13 with a 38-yarder in the first quarter, but he later missed a 34-yarder as well as an extra-point attempt that proved costly in the Demon Deacons' overtime loss. Wake Forest had forced overtime by blocking a 32-yarder by Krautman, who made his final 16 field-goal attempts last season.

TV viewers: The only game of the night to pit two teams from major conferences - Syracuse's come-from-behind win over Wake Forest - also was the most exciting game of the night. Too bad it wasn't televised. Most viewers instead had to watch games that were either boring or one-sided.

[CatsIllustrated: UK escapes as offense struggles]

Kentucky's offense: Kentucky squeaked out a 14-3 victory over Western Kentucky in its opener, but the Wildcats gained just 75 yards of total offense in the first three quarters against a Sun Belt team that went 2-10 last season. That won't cut it in the SEC.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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